“So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
There is a tendency within Christianity to have a desire for knowledge, but not for Godly reasons. That is, there is a pull toward Bible “big-headedness.” Unfortunately, many Christians believe, wrongly, that information leads to transformation. While it is true that information is important, and without it there is no growth, information without action leads nowhere.
Jesus calls us to repent. Jesus calls us to obey. This is the point of studying God’s Word to begin with—so that it can change us and lead us to take action.
Paul warns of a knowledge that does not lead to humility, but only puffs us up with pride. Scripture clearly teaches that faith without works is dead. Is that to say that our works are the means by which we attain faith? Not at all; rather, James is teaching us here that our faith should produce works. In other words, our faith is the root, whereas our works are the fruit. Works are the evidence of an inward change.
Knowledge alone is not enough. Even Satan knew how to quote Scripture from memory. But Satan is not a follower of God, a recipient of salvation, and certainly does not carry out the Gospel. True understanding of God’s Word leads to an eagerness to repent: to turn from our old ways of sin and desire to be more like Christ every day. This is why the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin.
Conviction is not comfortable, but it is necessary. It is an awakening, of sorts; it opens up our eyes to the gravity of our sin, which grieves God. Therefore, we are called to connect our study of Scripture, and the conviction God’s Spirit brings, to our every-day lives, and act upon the illumination we have received from God’s Word.
What Does the Bible Say?
Let us look at a few passages that command us to have an active faith, rather than knowledge alone:
James 1:22 says “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
Jesus says in Luke 11:28: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
In John 14, Jesus connects our love for him with obedience. He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He also tells us “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). Lastly, Jesus says “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me” (John 14:23–24).
When we merely hear what the words of God say, and do not put them into practice, we are deceiving ourselves (James 1:22). A true love for Jesus and God’s Word will result in a desire to be more like Him, and to turn toward Him. Without such a desire, we become consumed with pride, and often will try to use God’s name to make a name for ourselves. Herein lies the danger of “celebrity” pastoral leadership. We were never meant to glorify ourselves in all of our Biblical knowledge; rather, we ought to seek the glory of the one in whom our hope is eternally found.
When we open God’s Word, we are empowered with His Spirit, and come to a saving knowledge of salvation, which should prompt us to act upon it, joyfully obeying the commands of Scripture. This is what a living faith looks like in the life of the believer. Knowledge is good, insofar as it convicts us humbly, and does not puff us up proudly.